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Equal rights for cyborgs and Mann's new reality

By Jules Quartly | China Daily | Updated: 2012-07-25 10:00

Equal rights for cyborgs and Mann's new reality

A week ago, the "world's first cyborg" claims he went to McDonald's in Paris for a chicken ranch wrap and was assaulted because the franchise's employees objected to his digital glasses.

Steve Mann, the University of Toronto professor, has been wearing augmented vision computers for the best part of 35 years as part of his research on melding mind and machine.

While McDonald's insists he was not attacked, photographs taken by his glasses appear to show that they did destroy documentation explaining why he was wearing them and manhandled the glasses, which are fixed to his head and were damaged. No one disputes the fact he was metaphorically kicked out of the restaurant.

While lawyers are no doubt chewing over the facts of the case, the real news is possibly the first case of cyborg bullying and Mann's belief that, "A person should be their own master of their own sensory perception. It's not up to McDonald's to prescribe eyewear in a mandatory fashion" - or, presumably, any other modification that any one of us decides on in the future.

The future has arrived because cybernetic organisms are part of the present. You could argue that Carl "Blade Runner" Pistorius is not really a cyborg and that's why he's allowed to compete in the upcoming Olympics. He certainly does. But what about pacemakers, insulin pumps and hearing aids? C-legs and second generation implants that enable the blind to see?

Or looked at another way: If smart phones enhance our abilities, then if they are part of us, ergo we are enhanced beings, or cyborgs.

Sergey Brin is another forward thinker who has regularly been wearing augmented glasses. In June, the Google co-founder introduced at a developer's conference in San Francisco eyewear that can stream video and sync to the Web wirelessly. The glasses will go on general sale in 2013 and he's hoping the technology will replace smart phones in three or four years.

That's if Internet contact lenses don't arrive first. Imagine, says Michio Kaku in his book Physics of the Future, all the information on the Web flowing before your eyes in real time. You meet someone, facial recognition software identifies them, their Wiki entry displays, and if they speak a language you don't understand voice recognition software provides subtitles.

There is a theory that in the long run of evolution the machine is humanity's inheritor, a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator. Certainly we are already using augmented reality in war. When Osama bin Laden was shot down in his house in Pakistan, the White House was watching, practically taking part in the action, directing, like a video game.

But there's more to it than that. Not only will we become part of the video game. We will also become part of the environment - through logging on to the Web.

This relates to a newish field of thinking and research called the Internet of Things, a kind of mirrored virtual world, governed by computers and guiding real world services like ordering goods and providing real-time feedback.

At a recent talk hosted by XinDanWei in Shanghai and reported by, IOT "Council" founder Rob van Kranenberg opined that China is one of the leaders in the field and behind the idea of a "sensing planet".

This means that many more billions of objects in the future will have IPs (Internet Protocols), like computers now. They are already in your smart phone, possibly in your fridge and will become part of your clothing and even your toothbrush, along with sensors, allowing the Net to monitor the environment and your health, among other things.

Search engines based on algorithms like Google are a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence, identifying IPs and sorting information, evolving daily and becoming more powerful. This really isn't science fiction, it's science fact.

Once we are modified and linked in with this, we become part of a new reality. More machine than man perhaps.

Not incidentally, another of Steve Mann's areas of expertise is controlling computers with brainwaves. Naturally, this also means computers could control brains.

It looks like McDonald's isn't the only one that will have to deal with Mann's new reality.

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